DALLAS – Alaska Airlines (AS) may be forced to shut down or reduce the size of its crew bases in California if the US Supreme Court rules that flight attendants in that state are entitled to rest and food breaks.
This was revealed during a series of webcasts between AS management and the flight crews, during which the carrier outlined a number of potential strategies for how it intended to abide by Californian labor rules.
Following a judgment by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on February 23, 2021, that Virgin America flight attendants and any other flight attendant stationed in California have a right to rest and meal breaks, the US Supreme Court decided not to consider AS’ appeal.
Asked for comment, the airline stated it was “carefully evaluating how to balance California law with the federal rules that cover airline crew duties,” adding that it was “disappointed the US Supreme Court declined to hear our appeal of the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling that requires airlines to provide California-based flight attendants meal and rest breaks during which they can have no duties and must be free to leave the aircraft, no matter where the aircraft is physically located or what is happening on the flight.”
Webcasts revealed, according to US media reports, that the airline had prepared scenarios in the event the decision wasn’t in their favor. One of the potential outcomes was for their California crew bases to be shut down or scaled up, so freeing them from legal compliance.
The court’s idea of the “simple fix” of adding a second flight attendant to allow for rotating breaks would cost the most because it would eliminate a passenger seat from the inventory, according to AS management.
Bernstein versus Virgin America
After flight attendants sued Virgin America for violating California’s food break legislation, the case was initiated. According to information provided by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which is the union representing Alaska Airlines’ nearly 6,000 cabin crew members, Virgin America was added as a co-defendant in the case when Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America.
The case is still pending in the US Federal District Court.
According to the AFA, the District Court has been instructed to amend the ruling. AS has presented a number of defenses. On August 18, 2022, the District Court will hear the motion. The plaintiffs have requested that a judgment be entered awarding them US$42m in damages.
According to CH-Aviation, the AFA emphasized that the court’s decision was circumscribed, holding Virgin America (and Alaska Airlines only in its capacity as Virgin America’s successor-in-interest) accountable for meal and rest intervals only for flights within California and only from March 18, 2011, to December 15, 2017.
According to California’s Labor Code, those who work longer than five hours are entitled to a continuous 30-minute meal break. According to the cabin crew recruitment website Paddle Your Own Kanoo, employees who work for more than 10 hours must take a second break, and transportation personnel is also entitled to an additional 10-minute break for every four hours worked.
Federal regulations that generally govern work and set ground rules for flight attendants and pilots are much more restrictive than Californian labor laws. Airlines have warned that if they are forced to abide by local state regulations that regulate employee breaks, airfares will have to increase because they will need to hire more crews.
Featured image: N932AK, Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-9 MAX “West Coast Wonders Livery” @KSLC. Photo: Michael Rodeback/Airways